Virtual retail therapy
How small brick-and-mortar stores are adapting to closures.
Virginia Business virtually sat down with Kate Stottlemyer, owner of Tweed, a small, family-owned brick-and-mortar boutique located in Henrico County’s busy Short Pump area, to get a feel for how local retailers have adapted to doing business during the coronavirus crisis. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with Virginians about how their work lives and businesses have changed during the pandemic.
Virginia Business: How has Tweed adjusted to closing its storefront during the pandemic?
Stottlemyer: Not being able to open our doors to customers and our staff is really tough, but we’re trying to be positive. While the things that we sell are not considered to be necessities, there are events that continue despite the pandemic. Babies are still being born and people continue to have birthdays. Fortunately we already have e-commerce set up … but for years we’ve been saying we want to work on making our website stronger, so this has given us an opportunity to focus on that.
We’ve also had someone in the store between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday helping with phone orders. We’re able to offer curbside pick-up [and] free doorstep delivery within 10 miles of the store and [shipping]. We certainly miss seeing our customers and our staff — our staff is our family. Some of the people that we work with have worked there for 15 years, since we’ve been open.
Another piece are our vendors. We’re working closely with them and trying to be proactive. They’re seeing a decline in sales because stores like us aren’t preordering at the rate we were before.
VB: How are employees staying involved?
Stottlemyer: We have a number of part-time employees who are unfortunately not working right now. We have a core management team who are handling the web processing, the social media posting and have divided the duties between manning the store and communicating with the customers. We have a warehouse about two miles from the store, so we’re still receiving shipments. The financial manager and our receiving manager are both down at the warehouse each day taking calls down there, dealing with the financials and vendors and receiving shipments.
VB: How has home delivery worked thus far?
Stottlemyer: We’ve been delivering every day. We’ve probably delivered two dozen packages in the last few days. There’s no contact, so we feel very comfortable as far as being socially distanced from the customers. We’ve joked about being like the Tweed fairies and we’re delivering some happy at home.
VB: What have been the challenges and adjustments moving to virtual shopping?
Stottlemyer: We did our very first live video for Facebook and Instagram the day before yesterday. And I will be totally honest, I’ve avoided doing these forever because they scare me to death — I’m just like a nervous wreck. So we were thrilled and shocked at the response of how many people were tuned in and watching and excited and actually just really wanted to see the product in a video or in a live video format. During good times, customers would come in and come to the store just to get away from reality. We sometimes refer to [it] as “La La Land.” While our doors are closed, we can’t do that. That’s why videos are a great way for us to give people a chance just to “walk” through the store and feel like they’re in “La La Land” for a little bit.
VB: How do you anticipate business changing when all of this is over?
Stottlemyer: I do think people are going to — once we get through this — want the ability to go into a store and walk around. We really got to a point where we were moving so fast that we didn’t appreciate [bricks and mortar retail stores] anymore and took it all for granted. I hope this will take us back a little bit and help us all to slow down a little bit and go back — even though it’s a lot more convenient and easy to shop online — to the stores and shop.